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How I fixed my Bernina 440QE freezes

Friday, April 27th, 2018

I’m not a Bernina tech or a Bernina anything, but I’m going to put this out there in case someone else has a similar problem. Maybe it’ll help. Your mileage may vary.

I have an older but still nice machine, the Bernina 440QE. Last fall, it began freezing. When I sewed, sometimes the machine’s needle would quit moving and the display would go blank. I could reset the machine by turning the power off and on, but the problem would reoccur later.

I researched the problem online. “Take off the front inspection panel and see if the 5V LED goes off when this happens,” advised one site. “If it does, you’ve got yourself a problem. You’ll have to haul it in to a shop.”

I took off the panel. Yep. I was definitely losing 5V. That sounded like a power supply problem to me, but I was darned if I knew how to fix it. Clearly I needed to find a repair place. I started pawing around on Yelp, reading reviews of local Bernina-authorized repair places.

The reviews were discouraging. At one place, customers recounted a snotty attitude from the owner and mandatory $200 cleaning charges simply for walking through the door. Another store was prone to losing equipment and not returning phone calls or emails. At yet another, the owner had a poor reputation, with one customer saying he’d yelled and thrown things at them.

None of the places sounded worth my time or money. I wondered whether there was another repair option. In the meantime, I was able to limp along with my machine in its semi-broken state, simply powering it off and back on when it froze. It was annoying but I could work, just barely.

Unfortunately, the amount of time the machine would work grew shorter and shorter by the day. It was clear that some component inside was heating up and getting closer to permanently failing. One day the machine would simply quit working. I needed to have a strategy in place for when that happened, something other than crawling to one of the local dealers. I considered driving to a dealer elsewhere, if I could find one that was reputable, or even pulling out my credit card and ordering a new machine.

One day I stumbled across a couple of helpful posts on the Fixya site, here and here.

It seemed that I wasn’t the only person who’d experienced this particular problem! The likely culprit was a chip on the power supply board. Unfortunately, if I took my machine to a Bernina repair place – assuming I could find one which didn’t have the ethics of a used car dealer – they’d simply replace the entire L-print board. That would be costly. However, I could simply order a new chip myself, solder it in, and be on my way.

Before doing anything, I had a look at the chip’s datasheet, to see whether the component sounded like something which might affect voltages. I invite others to do the same.

It had been awhile since I’d done much soldering, so I pulled the covers off the machine. I figured I’d have a look at the board and the chip to see how easy they were to access. Who knew? Maybe I’d be lucky and the power supply board would be covered with ten years worth of dust. That’s the kind of thing that can cause heating and other issues, and is simple to fix.

YouTube yielded some nice videos on maintaining Berninas and removing their covers:


Cover removal

As I removed screws, I made rough sketches of the back and front of the machine and taped the screws in the appropriate locations. I’m sure other people have their own methods for tracking where screws go, but that’s one which has always worked for me.

There was some schmutz under the covers, mostly from the machine’s belt wearing down, but not as much as I’d anticipated. Let’s just say that after working at a particle accelerator for years, where equipment was sometimes exposed to challenging conditions, I’ve seen some nasty stuff. Good times.

The L-print board with the wayward chip lies beneath this plastic panel. To access it, I had to remove a couple of screws as well as the connector attached to the yellow wire harness. I used a pair of needle nose pliers to gently wiggle the connector free of the board which is hidden beneath the plastic cover. Yes, the yellow wires need to stay attached to the connector. Pulling them out probably WILL land one in a repair shop.

Board cover after carefully unplugging the connector. Such fun.

At last we get to see the L-print board. We can’t see it in this photo, but the chip the Fixya site claimed might be the problem is hiding behind that large capacitor.

There it is, the KA34063.

After unscrewing the board from its plastic mount and flipping it over, I was able to see the solder joints for the chip. They’re outlined in red.

At that point, I decided it was safe to order a few. And yes, I ordered several in case I wrecked a couple.

As the person on the Fixya site said, the KA34063 can be found on eBay. Other places carry them as well. I purchased mine from DigiKey. DigiKey offered USPS first class shipping which, while not as glamorous as FedEx or UPS, got the chips to me rapidly and cheaply.

Here I am at the dining room table, ready to take a soldering iron to the sewing machine I paid mumbledy-mumble thousands of dollars for about ten years ago. Sure. Why not. What could possibly go wrong?

Back of the board before removing the old chip. I like to take a photo so I can check things later like, oh, was that giant burned spot on the board before? Was that component always a melted heap of slag? You know. Little things like that.

After removing the chip and soldering in a new one. Eh. My soldering isn’t beautiful, but it’ll do.

After replacing the chip, I reassembled the machine just enough that I could turn the power on – notice that I don’t have the back cover screwed on. Then I stared at it for five minutes, debating about whether I was about to make a mistake if I flicked the switch.

Nope. Things were just fine. No dead panel, no fuses blowing, no electrical smell, no teensy poofs of smoke. Not that there should have been; I was careful.

I plugged in the BSR and did a little test to see whether its optical sensor saw fabric moving. Yep. That worked fine, too.

I let the machine sit, powered on, for an hour before turning it off and sealing it up. The freeze didn’t reoccur, so I sealed it up and sewed for an hour. At this point, a couple of days later, the repair still appears to be working. I’m cautiously optimistic.

Total cost of repair:

$2.60 for replacement chips (I ordered four, just in case I mangled a couple.)

$3.78 for shipping and tax

$16.92 at Fry’s for a desoldering pump, desoldering wick, a soldering iron stand, and some small diameter solder

Total: $23.30

This was the first time I’d used a desoldering pump, which I like to call a “solder sucker”. I wish I’d tried one years ago. They’re dirt cheap and incredibly convenient. All I had to do was heat the solder holding in my chip, trigger the pump, and the solder was gone. I only had to go over the connections once with the pump then do a little touchup with desoldering wick. The chip came out super easy after that; I wiggled it out with a pair of needle nose pliers from the other side of the board.

Hope this helps somebody. This may not be the cause of everyone’s 440QE display freezes, and not everybody is going to feel comfortable tearing into their machine, but at this point I’m well pleased. The machine is purring along, and now that I’ve looked under its covers, I feel like we’re good friends.

Tools of the trade

Monday, October 12th, 2015

In my last post, I shared the joy of hacking and slashing away at bits of foam core board to make dividers for my otherwise ghastly, disorganized drawers. In this post I’d like to share some of my other work area aids.

Many tools are specific to whatever art form one pursues: easels, paint brushes, kilns. Others, though, are more general purpose, applicable to a wide range of media. Those are some of the tools I find most interesting.


Here are the drawers, by the way. Decent storage is a thing of joy.



A screwdriver. I’m not going to share the story behind this right now, except that it involves blood, my stumbling out to the garage to look for a screwdriver while holding a sewing machine, and then a nurse shrieking when I phoned for advice and described my injury.

If you use a machine upon which you can get impaled or caught, keep whatever kind of tool you need to free yourself right beside the machine. Also, a telephone. Those are good. If you can’t get free with a screwdriver, you can at least call 9-1-1 and tell the dispatcher that no, you aren’t dying so there isn’t a huge hurry, but if they could come by and give you a hand when they have a minute, that would be much appreciated. And, um, until then you’ll just hang out with your machine. You’ll be one with your machine, so to speak.

And no, I don’t use power tools such as saws unless I’m stone cold sober and feel alert. Ironically enough, I think it’s easier to injure oneself on sewing machines and the like because one tends to work with one’s fingers in closer proximity to the needle.



Why does this boring-looking piece of ABS plastic have wood yardsticks glued to either end? Of what possible use could it be?



When one cinches up the shoe laces which are threaded through the corners, the sheet of plastic makes a seamless backdrop for photographing small objects. (Pretend that the Buddha head in the example is actually lit well.) The ABS can be wiped clean before use and stows away in a very small amount of space. This is my invention, although I’m sure similar things are commercially available.

This backdrop is handy for getting product shots for magazine articles, one’s website, Etsy, and so forth.



Wireless headphones. So wonderful. Having music or a podcast playing in one’s work area is good, but I can’t hear the music if I’m running a machine or the dogs are fighting right beside me.



Ear plugs. Good for levels of noise the headphones can’t disguise. Leaf blowers or chain saws, for example, or the people who used to hold impromptu church services in their house next door and would “speak in tongues”. (That, or they were practicing howling like coyotes with the accompaniment of organ music.)



Oiling pen. Don’t know how I lived without this; it applies a microscopic dot of machine oil just exactly where I need it. And boy, I use it frequently – every four or five times I swap out the bobbin, I’m in there brushing out the bobbin area and giving it a light lube.

It makes the bottles of oil one buys at the fabric store seem as delicate as a sledge hammer. Pens like this are dirt cheap, all of $3 or so at Allstitch.



Clamps. Cheap and handy. Attach lengths of fabric or paper to work surfaces, hold things together for gluing, pinch annoying people. Harbor Freight carries a set of six for a minimal price. They can also be purchased at Sears and hardware stores.



Inspiration board for project ideas or things I find appealing. Stuff goes up, furnishes my mind for awhile, then gets swapped out.



Reference materials. Each new project gets a new batch.



I can also step into the other room for more, or if I need a hound dog. Never can tell when I’ll need a dog.



Guess what’s in here. Give up yet?

With this stuff, I can suspend and light my finished artwork, or set up a backdrop for portraiture work or staging a scene. The whole thing was dirt cheap, maybe $250 – 300 total, stows away in a small space, and has saved me a world of inconvenience.



Yards and yards of green felt. I have similar lengths of white and grey. These come in handy when I want to photograph my work or a person on a solid background, which I’ll then remove (“knock out”) on the computer. The squeeze clamps (see above) let me attach the felt to my background support stand with minimal fuss.


What kinds of aids do you like to use in your work area?


Drawer dividers for Ikea Alex

Thursday, October 1st, 2015

I’m smack dab in the middle of four separate deadlines/commitments, so it seemed like a great time to destroy my work area. I’m logical like that.


The thread came, so I’m a step closer to divorcing the Chain Fabric Store from Hell. However, I needed a place to put the thread.

I don’t use wall racks. Some folks like them, but my house gets incredibly dusty what with two dogs and a bird, plus Apple building a spaceship half a mile from my house. Anything that sits out for a couple of days disappears under a half inch thick layer of filth.


I’ve been using spool storage cases from Allstitch. They hold 48 spools, keep the dust out, and at $12.75, aren’t too expensive. Unfortunately, I’ve run into some issues finding room for the cases, plus pawing through a bunch of them is getting tedious. Getting even more didn’t seem like a good idea.


Alex series – about $120 at Ikea

My next thought was to stick dividers in some drawers. I had some wide, shallow Ikea Alex drawers that seemed about the right size for storing thread. Perhaps, since they’re a standard item at Ikea, they or somebody else might sell drawer inserts? Barring that, maybe I could head out to the garage, scrounge up some wood, and make my own?

I poked around on the web. I didn’t find pre-made dividers, but I did learn that the Alex series is incredibly popular with crafters and artists, as this pinterest page demonstrates. From there I also learned that many people make drawer dividers from foam core board.

Foam core! Why didn’t I think of that myself? It’s cheap, easy to cut, and in some sense is more forgiving of mistakes than if I started fiddling around with wood. I headed down to Michael’s with a 40% off coupon and grabbed a 20 x 30 x 3/16” piece of foam core for around $2. That piece of foam was big enough to furnish dividers for three of my drawers. If I’d bothered to plan ahead, I could have optimized my cutting scheme and made even more.

The top three drawers of the Alex are about 2” deep. There’s an added complication in that the back 4 1/2” of the drawers is obstructed, so it isn’t terribly useful to run dividers all the way back there. Thus, I opted to make my dividers 1 1/2” tall and leave about 6 1/2” clearance behind, so one can wiggle other items in and out.

Other specifications were driven by the fact that I was storing spools of Madeira Polyneon, which are about 3″ long, and the pieces of foam core were 3/16″ thick.



To make dividers like mine, begin by cutting four 1 1/2” thick strips across the 30” length of the foam core. An X-acto knife (Or, bleh, a “craft knife”) and long metal ruler or T-square work well for this task.


Put waste cardboard or a cutting mat beneath the foam core to avoid cutting in to your work surface. Or, you know, you could just do what I do, which is pretend the scratches and cut marks aren’t there and throw a cloth on the table when you have company.


Measure the width of the drawer and cut three of the 30” strips to that length. Or, if you aren’t fond of measuring, take the strips over to the drawer and mark them there.


Mark lines 6” and 6 3/16” in from each end of the long strips. Next, mark horizontal lines about 3/4” down from one edge, as seen above.

The goal with these lines is to outline the area which will be carved out to make notches. I like to draw an X over the area to be cut out, as a reminder.

Set the long pieces aside.


Cut two 10” pieces from the remaining 30″ strip.


On each 10” strip, measure and make the following marks:

  • 3/16” from one end (3/16″ being the thickness of the foam core board)
  • 3 5/16” from the end  (The above measurement + 3 1/8”, which is the length of one spool of Madeira thread plus 1/8″ wiggle room)
  • 3 1/2”  from the end (The above measurement + 3/16”, which is the thickness of the foam core board)
  • 6 5/8”  from the end  (The above measurement + 3 1/8”)
  • 6 13/16”  from the end (The above measurement + 3/16”)

You should end up with a series of marks which alternate the thickness of a piece of foam core and the length of a spool of thread.

Next, make horizontal marks about 3/4” down from one edge. These will determine how tall your notches are.

The finished marks should look something like those shown in the photo above.


With the X-Acto knife, cut out the notches in all of the pieces.


You should end up with three long notched pieces and two short notched pieces for each set of dividers.


Test fit the pieces before gluing. I like to use hot melt glue; it sets up quickly, and this application isn’t going to require much strength.


Oops. The drawer is full of junk. Also, I’ve managed to photograph it so that it looks like a trapezium rather than a rectangle, which is kind of a neat trick.


Junk removed, with a test fit of the drawer divider. There’s just enough room behind the divider to wiggle stuff in and out for storage.


Thread in place, with some assorted rulers stuck behind the divider. Hmph. My drawer has reverted to looking like a trapezium again. Maybe we’re in a universe without ninety degree angles or something.


There’s a way to cut out the foam core more efficiently, so as to get more dividers out of it, but I didn’t really plan before cutting. So, um, just throw the waste pieces in a random drawer and hoard them for twenty years. That’s what I’d do. They’re bound to come in handy sometime. Bound to.



Some of the other thread drawers.

Okay. That was fun. Now I guess I’d better deal with the wreck I made when pulling junk out of the thread storage drawers, then get back to work … hope this helps somebody and sparks some ideas, anyhow. It turns out foam core is incredibly easy to work with, and is a natural for making drawer dividers. If I was somebody who enjoyed folding underwear rather than wadding it all up and mounding it in the dresser, it might be worthwhile to make foam core dividers for the bedroom, too. (Spoiler: not happening.)


Sunday, May 31st, 2015


 “Bust Banks” seen at ToysRUs; ready to leer salaciously at a child near you.

The “Bust Banks” above have nothing to do with the rest of this post. I just found the scene amusing.

May has been a good month. I had work at AQS Lancaster and AQS Paducah, back when those occurred. As a result, some opportunities have just come my way. More on that another time.

I’ve also been accepted into the Textile and Fiber Art List, a top notch organization of fiber artists and textile businesses. They showcase some really amazing artists and artwork, so I’m quite tickled to be included. (Seriously – go to their site and check out the artwork! Even if you aren’t in the market for artwork at the moment, browsing the site is very enjoyable.)


Meanwhile, I’ve been steadily chugging away on Odalisque, as shown above. It’s taking forever to stitch. Maybe if I wasn’t so intent on faithfully depicting textures, I’d be done by now, but noooooo. I have to obsess over the details instead of just stippling over the surface like a normal person might. At this rate it’s going to take a solid year to complete.



I’m also working on a new piece or pieces for an exhibit to celebrate the 50th anniversary of humans landing on the moon. These are supposed to be under wraps until the exhibit, so no photos of the surface design. Once I fulfill my commitment to the exhibit, I’ll be getting some more 3D/CGI-based fiberworks in the pipeline.



Yesterday I made this, a 3D/CGI image which will inflicted on one of my son’s friends in the form of a birthday card.

The other day, I had lunch with a nice lady and had trouble explaining what I do. “3D/CGI. Are you working in CAD?” she asked politely. Ehhhhh … not so much. It’s sort of a cousin of CAD, and increasingly I’m using my renderings as surface designs for fabric.



On a personal note, my kid won a blue ribbon at the school district’s science fair. His experiment involved prepping strawberries to see if the onset of room temperature molding could be delayed, then days and days of checking the berries for mold. It grew a bit foul at the last, when some of the samples began to liquify and ferment instead of molding. Then there was the whole process of analyzing the data, doing a writeup, and talking to judges. It was a good experience for him, and I really appreciate the fact that his school district held the event.



Another of the boy’s school projects, producing a board game to help report on one of the insipid Boxcar Children mysteries. You know – the ones which were written around the time of the Great Depression and had a group of four orphaned kids living in an abandoned boxcar. They often feature scenes like:

Henry: “Wow. The four of us sure did work hard solving that mystery! Now we’re all really hot and tired! Benny, let’s go swimming!”

Violet: “Super! Jessie and I will stay here in the hot boxcar, do dishes, and cook! Then we’ll sweep and dust instead of having fun, because we’re females living in an indeterminate year during the 1920s-1940s!”

The first time I read a scene like this with a group of kids, I had them flip to the front of the book and look at the copyright date. I then asked them to compare the scenes to current social norms to see which things have changed and which have stayed the same during the last 60-80 years. Personally, if I’ve been working really hard and other people are going swimming, I’m going too. We can all roast potatoes in the fire together later.

Anyhow – fun project. Good opportunity to show the boy some features in Adobe Illustrator and introduce him to bland clip art.


Another project. It has little or nothing to do with artwork – well, other than my needing to eat in order to create art – but it made me happy. These sliding racks aren’t as space efficient as simply jamming pans willy-nilly on shelves in the cabinet. However, I’m trying to transition to having less but appreciating and using it more. I still need to finish this job by screwing in some side shims, though. (Feel free to place bets on when and whether I will actually get that done.)


Another project. There had been wooden raised beds, but they gradually rotted away and become precarious. Demolition of the old beds was fun – occasionally I’d call my son over so he could watch me tear a 2×6 in half with my bare hands, and sort of not mention to him that the board was completely rotten. The new beds are composite. I hope they’ll hold up better than the wood beds, but we shall see.

In the back, one can see a large barrel. I’m using that to store clean waste water, such as the cold water one normally flushes down the drain while waiting for one’s bath or shower water to warm. I also salvage water from the kitchen whenever I rinse vegetables, drain a pot of pasta, etc., and pour that directly on the garden. California is in the grip of an epic drought, and there’s no telling when – or if – matters will improve. So far I’ve been able to water the garden using only water we’d normally waste.

Out and about

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

I walk three or four miles a day. When you walk three or four miles a day, sometimes you see stuff.


Dog butts. I see a lot of those. Only one of the dogs in this photo is ours, the rust-colored weiner-basset. The other two are a neighbor’s, although the terrier in the upper right is doing a good imitation of moving in with us.



A cat taking its ease. Turns out that cats who are taking their ease really don’t like to have their photos taken. After shooting me a dirty look, it ran off.



Somebody played dress up with their flamingo. I admire their style. I have weeds in my yard, too. Maybe I should get a flamingo and dress it up?



Shockingly nude manikins at Weird Stuff Warehouse. I guess the featureless expanses of lumpy plastic offended someone’s sense of decorum.



A pumpkin vine hanging over the top of a six foot tall fence. That’s a pumpkin with aspirations!

Alright. Blah blah blah, I’m in this exhibit and another exhibit, have stuff in a book which just came out, and am working on some projects. Can’t write much about that stuff, though, because the video/display on my computer keeps going amok. It’s a known issue with this type of computer. Hopefully Apple will address the problem without my having to open my wallet. In the meantime, it’s about time for things to go haywire again, so sayonara.

“Why Knot” plus Pinewood Derby

Monday, January 26th, 2015


I’m happy to say that “Why Knot?” will be at AQS Lancaster this March. I wish I could be there as well, but I hope that at least visitors will enjoy the piece. This is my first fiber piece which veers into using computer-assisted imagery rather than purely painting on fabric, and I used the opportunity to plant a few jokes in the background.

We’ve just finished up the Pinewood Derby here, an annual Cub Scout event in which boys prepare and race cars cobbled together out of blocks of wood. I always enjoy it because, since I don’t yet feel comfortable turning my son loose with a band saw, it’s an excuse to collaborate with him and work in a medium other than fabric or CG. (Whether he enjoys my working with him is quite another question!)

The Pinewood Derby began in 1953, held by Don Murphy, a Manhattan Beach Cub Master who wanted an “activity he could do with his 10 year old son who was too young to race in the Soap Box Derby”.

It was a clever idea, one which has evolved and endured. Today when one buys an official B.S.A. Pinewood Derby kit, one gets a block of wood about 7” x 1.75” x 1.25”, four plastic wheels, and four nails to use as axles. One can do whatever one likes to the block of wood  provided that the finished car weighs five ounces or less, is three inches tall or less, and conforms to a few other specifications.

The Derby is a nice opportunity to do a design and construction project with one’s kid, a project which has set specifications but which is also a bit free form. Thus, a few weeks ago, I corralled the boy and said words to the effect of “The Derby is x weeks away. What do you want to make this year?” He hemmed and hawed, then allowed as how he’d enjoyed getting a style award last year and he wanted to try for one again this year. He was thinking of doing something which wasn’t traditional, maybe a shape like a shoe.

Okay, a shoe. What kind of shoe? Whose shoe was it? Maybe he could sketch his idea out on paper? I gave him a piece of paper with the dimensions of the wood block outlined, and had him sketch his idea.


The shoe started as a nondescript garden clog affair. Over the course of a few more discussions and drawing sessions, it evolved into a fantasy design, a witch’s shoe.




Heel added


More pronounced witchiness


Final pattern for sawing

This would prove to be an interesting design to execute since the provided block of Pinewood Derby wood was too shallow. We would have to laminate another chunk of wood on top, which meant digging through my wood pile and doing some cutting and gluing.

Since I’m paranoid about the boy having an accident – he’s a little too interested in things like axes and chain saws for my taste – I made the cuts with the table saw and band saw myself. Maybe next year he can make a car with the scroll saw. Although bandsaw accidents can happen in the blink of an eye, one has to work pretty hard to lose a finger with a scroll saw.

There was plenty of other work for him to do, though, sanding and puttying and painting. Provided that one’s Scout has patience and perhaps a parent to nag them into working a bit each day, some fairly decent results can be achieved. It also really helps if one has a spray booth, even if it’s just a cardboard box, which we do.


Here’s the shoe in its primed state, adding weights. The goal is to get one’s finished car as close to five ounces as possible without going over. Sometimes that means adding weights;  hiding them can get to be a challenge. Our plan was to cement the weights in place inside drilled holes, then putty and sand over them. As a side note, if one uses Revell’s round chassis weights, they can be cut in a matter of seconds using a bolt cutter. It’s far, far less taxing than trying to hacksaw the blasted things!


Here we’re testing and weighing potential accents before adding wheels. Note that the holes where the weights were inserted are all but invisible. I guess I should be ashamed to admit that I had all of this stuff, the ribbon and flies and pumpkins, on hand. However, my philosophy is that you never can tell when you’ll need a glow-in-the-dark plastic fly.


The finished shoe. We unfortunately didn’t tune the car up before the race, doing things like insuring the axles were in straight, so it placed in the middle of the pack. However, it did receive a style award for best workmanship, which is what the boy had really wanted. He even had a back story for the shoe, something about a bunch of flies using it to smuggle pumpkins for making pumpkin stew. There were also tons of other fun entries made by other boys, including a sailing ship, a pencil, and a box of french fries.

Here are our entries from last year, the boy’s Gravedigger and my ant car, Mandiblur, for the family competition. We seem to have a black theme going. I can hardly wait for next year’s Pinewood Derby!




Development of Odalisque, Part I

Saturday, October 11th, 2014



Here’s a preview of fabric I had printed for the work in progress. It’s clipped to the doors of my storage cabinet, with random chunks of batting and Stewie from Family Guy lurking above. It’s a very elegant workspace.

I haven’t decided what to call it … Odalisque, Odalisque with Squeak Toy, Dogalisque. Maybe the title will become clearer as I sew and get my hands dirty.

More than a year ago, I had the idea of making a portrait of my dog in the style of classic Odalisque paintings. You probably know the ones – there’s a naked dame casually lounging around on a swanky couch with loads of velvet drapes. Here’s an example by Ingres (which Wikipedia Commons assures me is in the public domain).


To my mind, the great flaw with all of these paintings is that they’re of women rather than dogs.

I stalked my dog for weeks, taking photos whenever he lounged.


Hmm. No.


Dear lord. No.


Huh. Getting there.

You get the idea. Lots of shots taken, most of them awful. Many shots later …


Not bad. Now, the judge who had the nasty comment about Suspicion a few years ago, the one who had maybe never gone to a zoo to see what sleeping flamingos actually look like, probably wouldn’t like this pose. It is admittedly an usual pose. It’s voluptuous, though, what with Ryan coyly covering his “manhood” (doghood?) and making eye contact with us. Yeah. That’s the money shot. That’s the core of the Odalisque.

The only problem was, the background and surroundings were lousy. I keep a sheet thrown over the couch for sanitary reasons, because the dog likes to lick his rump (yuck) and the boy scatters dry Cheerios everywhere. The sheet makes for fast cleanup: yank it off, throw it in the washer, and filth is history. However, it’s also ugly. Not exactly classical Odalisque surroundings. What to do?

The obvious answer was to use Photoshop to composite the hound on to a different background, maybe something with a velvet chaise or a lush Empire couch. However, I don’t happen to have any of those things on hand – ours is, as previously noted, more of a “sheet thrown over the couch” sort of household.

I explored using stock photography. That led nowhere, partly because of cost and partly because the lighting wouldn’t match. Nothing screams “fake” quite like inconsistency in shadows and highlights.

No, I was just going to have to go a build a set somehow, then composite the dog in. But how?

Then the answer came to me. This is how, through the power of computery goodness:


(Click to embiggen.)

Thanks to the power of computers, we need not be restricted to what we can draw or photograph ourselves. Thank goodness for that.

More another day …

Making it

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014



Here’s the latest. It’s a filler project, the sort of thing one does while tapping one’s foot and waiting impatiently for art supplies to arrive.

A few years ago, for environmental reasons, communities in California’s Bay Area began phasing out the use of one-use plastic shopping bags. That led to my purchasing reusable polypropylene bags, many of which are now wearing out. When I get a few minutes now and then, I make sturdier replacement bags from fabric. Hopefully this is a net positive for the environment, plus it never fails to remind me how much I genuinely don’t enjoy utility sewing and can’t wait to get back to making artwork. (When will my supplies arrive?)

This bag, which I just finished, is almost entirely made of leftovers: narrow batik slivers, hideous substrate fabric, salvaged batting, old cotton bedsheets, leftover quilted strips. These are the sorts of things which anyone else would have the sense to throw out or send to a fabric recycler.

To create the bags, I first make a sort of Frankenfabric by fusing the batik slivers to substrate fabric, then make the standard sandwich from that, batting, and the sheeting. The quilting is a good opportunity to try out different stitching motifs, or so I tell myself until the process becomes annoying.


Here’s an interior shot of the bag, showing  the bedsheet lining. This lining happens to be blue. I tend to wear giant holes in the middle of our bedsheets, leaving vast swaths of fairly decent cotton around the edges of the sheets. While I’d be reluctant to use these pieces in a serious project, they can get a decent second life in shopping bags. When I’m doing some dyeing, I throw these chunks into the dye bath as well, so that I have a ready supply of hippie fabrics. You know, in case a wormhole sucks my house back to 1969.


Here are some of the quilted strips from which I form bag handles. I have many yards of these things, a result of my trimming off the edges of art quilts to square them up. They’re pretty densely stitched, so they’re fairly sturdy. After serging the raw edges of these trimmings, I color them with some old fabric paint that I’m trying to use up. That helps them give a more unified look with whatever bag I’m creating. It may also help disguise some of the filth inherent in being carried around or thrown in the back of the car.



Sometimes there are odd bits left over after one has cut out the rectangles for the bags. These make decent bookmarks, coasters, and cup cozies. I have no idea whether any of the Native Americans in the family tree chased down and ate buffalo. However, the old story about their using every part including the dung comes to mind when I’m considering these fabric tidbits.

Alright. One bag down. I hope the art supplies arrive before I’m forced to make another.


Several weeks ago, I read a Slate article on 3D printers.

3D printing is an enticing, exciting technology. Although 3D printers have been around for years, interest is ramping up. Everywhere you look, it seems that people are doing inane or amazing things with 3D printing – printing pancakes, printing dental casts, trying to print with cells so as to create human replacement organs. The temptation is strong to go build one and experiment oneself. How hard could it be?

Then I think about what I would probably do with such a device: print up a few flimsy replacement parts for broken things, then fill my house with hideous little printed sculptures. After a month or so, I’d grow bored or distracted and the printer would begin to gather dust along with the iPhone microscope, child washing station, PVC marshmallow shooter, and other things I just had to build. In the meantime, technology would continue to advance and new, more efficient, less costly printers would come to market. Such is life on the bleeding edge.


The kid wash, used here to form a low rent water slide. It totally makes sense to build a water toy in an area experiencing serious drought. See Instructables for a parts list and how-to.


Thus, I found myself nodding in sympathy with Seth Stevenson’s description of trying to print out a simple bottle opener. Oodles of expensive plastic filament wasted, jammed nozzles, plastic blobs generated, printer giving up halfway through a job. Yep. Standard stuff when the kinks are being ironed out of a developing technology. I’m sure these sorts of issues will steadily get resolved, but at the moment there just isn’t a compelling reason for me or most other consumers to run out and buy or build a 3D printer. I’m not doing a lot of whizzy product design which requires prototypes, nor am I doing medical research so that people can walk into a doctor’s office and have a new kidney printed on the spot. I’m not in a situation where the benefits of this technology outweigh the current annoyances. Besides – if I get the yen to print, the local library has a 3D printer.

I found myself nodding in sympathy, that is, until I got to this paragraph:

“Consider: Once upon a time, people purchased sewing patterns (like a program from Thingiverse) and yards of fabric (like filament) and they made their own clothes. I wasn’t alive back then, but I’m pretty sure the process sucked. It took lots of time and effort and the clothes were often amateurishly constructed. Sure, consumer sewing machines got better, and made things faster and easier and more professional looking. But nowadays, save for DIY fashion enthusiasts and grandmas with lots of time on their hands, people aren’t buying many at-home sewing machines. They’re a novelty item with little practical purpose. Most people would much rather just get their clothes from a store—already assembled by people employing industrial-level efficiency and a wide variety of materials.”

Bwaaaa? Speak for yourself, Buddy.

I’m neither a DIY fashion enthusiast nor a grandma. My sewing machine is not a “novelty item with little practical purpose.” It’s a tool, one tool in an arsenal of tools with which I create or repair. I have tools for woodworking, gardening, repairing plumbing and circuits, and so forth. I used to have automotive tools until I threw that task at my husband. (I can repair cars. I really don’t enjoy it.)

My sewing machine probably gets more use than all of the other tools combined, with the possible exception of the plunger. Perhaps Stevenson could have chosen a more accurate analogy.

Alexandra Lange, an architecture and design critic, has also written a response to this article, “3D Printers have a lot to learn from the sewing machine”. She makes several points which didn’t occur to me.

Hmph. “Novelty item with little practical purpose” my foot.

Back from London

Saturday, April 26th, 2014



Interior courtyard of the V&A, London

Lest I forget to mention it, here’s a website which has given me much pleasure, Collectors Weekly. From its title, I’d expect tedious articles about buying vintage cow-shaped creamers off EBay or the worth of grandma’s poodle skirt. Instead, it’s full of wonderful long form journalism about culture and design. A history of chopines, the use of government surplus tools at the Exploratorium, an analysis of Frida Kahlo’s lost wardrobe. Thanks to this website, I suddenly realized that the clattering mass of keys, ID badge and so forth worn by my son’s teacher is a modern day version of a chatelaine.

Design is on my mind. I got back from London a week or so ago. While there I made a pilgrimage to the Victoria and Albert Museum, which modestly bills itself as “The World’s Greatest Museum of Art and Design”.  I haven’t made an extensive survey, so perhaps it is; its collections are large and varied, ranging from sculpture to fashion to ironwork. I’m not a huge fan of ironwork, mind you, but it’s nice to know that if I get a yen to study it, a great collection is just a jet ride away.

I don’t talk about my formal art education much. The truth is that I had to assemble it in bits and pieces, taking art classes during the scant hours when I wasn’t making Z particles at a particle accelerator. My side pursuit wasn’t particularly well respected, so I had to do this in a desultory manner. Announcing that one had taken an art history course – one of the most marvelous classes I’ve ever taken, since it tracked the course of human history – was akin to passing gas in an elevator. Far better to stick to magnetic fields and relativistic charged particles.

At some point, for reasons I don’t quite remember, I enrolled in a graphic design program. I studied for years, only to drop out when I lost patience with my instructors. All were practicing designers here in Silicon Valley, with big name contracts. One would think that exposure to high quality design and business acumen would be a great educational advantage. However, the instructors increasingly seemed unaware of up-and-coming movements, such as 3D CGI, and they were loathe to share their business expertise. Worse yet, there was a sneering attitude toward my landing design and illustration contracts. I was supporting myself off my artwork by that time. I dropped out just short of the end, thereby depriving myself of yet another class in typography or Archaic Ways with Rubylith or whatever the heck they had in mind to torture aspiring graduates.

So there you have it, my secret shame. I have a physics degree, but I’m a design school dropout. I can never apply to organizations which require an art or design degree.

A couple of years after dropping out, I was at a gold rush era startup. I needed to outsource a design project. My mind immediately turned to a former instructor, a fellow who’d impressed me with his demeanor and design expertise. I wanted the best for the company.

I duly phoned him and mentioned the project and the company. Its name evidently didn’t ring a bell, despite the fact that it had been much in the news. I think it’s still on the top ten list for first day stock price gains. Thanks to the CEO’s ethics and business acumen, the company had strong fundamentals and some truly brilliant employees.

“I don’t do small projects,” my former instructor replied snottily. Ah. Sorry to hear that. He didn’t sound interested in the project, so I didn’t trouble him with the fact that it had a six figure budget. Perhaps that would be too small for his shop. I ended up using an agency from San Francisco, a very professional and talented group of people who bent over backward to do an excellent job.

Awhile back, I poked around to see how my former instructor was doing. Judging by the street address, his work space had downsized from nice offices in Palo Alto to a small shop run out of his house. His website was very buggy and barely functioned on a tablet. Not good, given that part of his business involved web design.

Rude to a former student, unaware of current business events, hadn’t kept up with design and technology trends. Perhaps there’s a connection between these events and his having to teach in order to supplement his income. Perhaps that was true of many of the people at that school.

As for me, I did four years at the startup, then left in a not entirely gracious manner, although I did try to protect the company’s interests. They were good people and I learned and gained a great deal there, but things went sour. Day after day after day of high stress tends to bring out the worst in people. Some people destroyed the company’s property on their way out (computers, data, lawsuits, damning press releases). Some people destroyed themselves (suicide by hanging). I left quietly one morning, after a few weeks of back-and-forth with my VP and money being dangled, then coming in around five A.M. to ensure that I’d left emergency manuals and a paper trail that someone else could follow. By eight A.M. I’d locked up paperwork, passwords and my badge and left the key for my VP.

Then I came home. I pounded the crap out of the floors in my house, chiseling out old defective oak boards and banging in new ones each time an angry thought came into my brain. It didn’t help that every time I’d go to the library or a  bookstore, I’d see work I’d done staring at me from the backs of magazines. Work I couldn’t even admit to doing, because the company would really prefer to not have it known that they’d used a rendering rather than a photo. It was emotionally similar to going through a divorce. The floors in my house took a great deal of abuse. Better that than taking it out on the company, though. These things happen. They really weren’t bad people. It was just time to go.

I have a good and easy life, thanks in part to the startup. I have a great husband and a kid. I get to stay home and work on my artwork and other projects without regard for whether they will please anyone else. Now and then I get to visit places like the V&A in London.

Reckon I can’t complain.

Betty Busby class

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Several people have written saying that, like me, they admire Betty Busby’s work. I wanted to give a “heads up” that she’ll be teaching a four day class in Santa Fe this April. Looks like she’ll be helping people explore some of her techniques which use non-woven materials. For details, please see the Art Quilt Santa Fe site.

If I could go, I would. I’ve only met Betty once, having dinner with her and a group, but that was one of the most interesting, entertaining meals I’ve ever had. She’s very smart, has a great design sense and a great sense of humor.

If, like me, you can’t attend her class, you might enjoy seeing some of the work on her website or enjoy a visit to her blog.

On her blog, she discusses the creation of some of her works. Very illuminating. I always enjoy seeing her work in person, but it adds an extra dimension to, say, visit the current Quilt National exhibit, read the words “hot knife,” and realize that she actually burned or melted away fabric to create part of the design. An industrial technique harnessed to create a wonderfully organic design, and somehow all very Betty.